Open Letter from England

Radical Independence Campaign

To: Jonathon Shafi (co-founder of RIC)

9 February 2021

Dear Jonathan,

I am writing as a supporter of the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) who came to Glasgow in 2014 along with other supporters from England including Tariq Ali, Hilary Wainwright and Adam Ramsey to support RIC activities. I organised a “London Says Yes” solidarity meeting in September 2014 with platform speakers and contributions from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales and a broad range of radical left organisations contributing their messages of solidarity. I spoke at RIC conferences where contributions from England, Ireland and Wales were invited in a spirit of internationalism.

I have always been welcomed at RIC meetings and treated equally as a member even though I do not live in Scotland or participate in the local RIC groups which are the backbone of the campaign.

I attended the recent recall RIC AGM and voted with the minority to maintain and rebuild RIC in new political conditions. I am convinced those who followed your lead to close RIC down have acted prematurely, without having made a serious or justifiable case.

Needless to say that you played a massive role in leading RIC along with Cat Boyd and others in a very active campaign in 2014. Although the 2014 vote was a defeat for Scotland’s democratic movement, it was a pyrrhic victory for Cameron and the Tories. They won with the help of Gordon Brown and a campaign of fear and false promises (e.g. Scotland remaining in the EU (Cameron-Osborne) and a new improved constitutional settlement (Brown). Winning this way is only a temporary victory until more Scottish people recognise ‘we wuz conned’.

Now in 2021 Scotland is out of the EU and no new constitutional agreement in sight, except Brown promoting more unionist devolution, no doubt rebranded. Not surprisingly public opinion polls are moving in favour of Scottish sovereignty. Closing RIC down in these circumstances is the political equivalent of Arthur Scargill closing down the National Union of Mineworkers a year or so before the 1984 miners strike.

RIC was defeated in 2014 but it did not fail. The objective of radical republican independence has not yet been achieved. The Scottish republic is still ahead of us and not in the rear view mirror. Closing it down is not a defeat or failure of policy but of leadership. As individuals we all get demoralised and tired of pressure or simply move on in life. There is no criticism in this. A healthy democracy has the answer, which enables continuity and change of leadership. This is how trade unions continue for decades or even centuries because their objectives of better pay, conditions and workers rights have not been achieved.

The case for radical independence and popular sovereignty is more relevant than ever. RIC has to be honest with the Scottish people and explain why a Scottish republic is the only way for the Scottish people to begin to take charge of their own affairs, by extending democracy, the public sector and workers rights. Making a Scottish Republic central to building a stronger RIC is surely not something you have abandoned or oppose.

The demand for a Scottish republic is not the dogma of a few ‘sectarians’ but a demand broadly agreed by all progressive democratic forces in Scotland. It is something, which distinguishes the left from the official nationalism of the SNP. It is one democratic demand the left can unite around and not a reason to shut down RIC. If there is a better plan for RIC members it was not explained either before or after January 31.

Preserving RIC archives is a worthwhile objective but can’t compare with an active radical independence campaign. It may furnish historians of the Scottish republic with the evidence of why RIC failed in 2021 because, although initiated by a small left group, it was still seen as its ‘property’ rather than belonging to the movement. Attempting to close RIC down without a wider debate among hundreds of those who supported RIC on the pro-independence left is damaging and divisive.

It might be thought that RIC supporters in England have no skin in this game. This is wrong. Queen Anne and her Ministers imposed the 1707 Act of Union on Scotland. It was and remains a denial of Scotland’s sovereignty and right to self-determination. English anti-unionists oppose bad constitutional law whether Scotland accepts it or not.

It is a mistake to think the Act of Union has no impact of politics and attitudes in England. It has made England a more imperial, conservative and indeed Tory voting nation. Holding back democracy in Scotland has its corresponding impact on English class-consciousness. English democracy has nothing in common with Greater England chauvinism. Support for RIC in England is not motivated simply by solidarity with democratic forces in Scotland. It is from the conviction that the English working class can only free itself from ‘Toryism’ by shaking off the stranglehold of the English chauvinism, promoting ‘British’ identity and waving the union flag.

A Scottish Republic is not simply a democratic advance for the Scottish people but the moment when England will have to confront its democratic deficit and the English left will have nowhere left to hide. The bigger picture of the working class democratic movement outside Scotland has not been taken into account in the attempt to close RIC any more than the wider RIC membership in Scotland has been consulted.

You can work to preserve the historical record of RIC whilst supporting those members of RIC who want to write a new chapter in that story. If RIC has no role in the future it will die from its own irrelevance. But if, as the opposition claim, it will meet the real needs of movement we should not stand in its way. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and we should not condemn ourselves to starve by burning down the bakery.

It is in the interests of the Scottish and English people that the Scottish radical and republican left that united in RIC does not end up in acrimonious dispute. It is not too late for discussion between those who were in the majority and minority at the January 31st having consultations and comradely discussions about the way forward for RIC and the wider radical and republican movement. It is in a spirit of comradeship and unity that English anti-unionists would appeal to you and your fifty-seven comrades, who decided to leave RIC behind, not to oppose or hinder those who want to continue to build it. I hope if RIC is rebuilt you will re-join us in the struggle and as far as I am concerned would be very welcome.

Yours in comradeship

Steve Freeman

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1 Response to Open Letter from England

  1. Dave Coull says:

    This “Open Letter to Jonathon Shafi” is from Steve Freeman. The accompanying photo shows folk at the RIC general meeting in Glasgow in April 2015. The RADICAL INDEPENDENCE ANGUS & MEARNS banner is at the back of the photo. Although you can’t see, in this photo, who is holding up the left-hand end of our banner, it was, in fact, me.
    Steve Freeman travelled up from London to Glasgow for that RIC meeting. Generally speaking, “speeches” weren’t encouraged, but Steve got to make a short statement of solidarity from folks in England.
    Steve took part in the recent ZOOM meeting, and he is now telling Jonathon Shafi “I am convinced those who followed your lead to close RIC down have acted prematurely, without having made a serious or justifiable case.”
    Well of course they didn’t have a “serious or justifiable case”. But it needs to be pointed out that RIC has not, in fact, been “closed down”. Those who claim it has are making false claims. That April 2015 general meeting (which both Steve Freeman and myself attended) created, for the first time, a Constitution for RIC. That Constitution, which has never at any time since then been altered, states that any changes regarding RIC should, preferably, be by concensus. However, at a very minimum, any changes have to have the support of at least two thirds of delegates at a general meeting. Despite Johnathon Shafi making strenuous efforts to pack that ZOOM meeting on 31st January with large numbers of folk whose connections to RIC were, at best, dubious, they failed to get that 2/3 majority. Therefore, their motion to “close down” RIC failed.

    Steve Freeman tells Johnathon Shafi “Making a Scottish Republic central to building a stronger RIC is surely not something you have abandoned or oppose”.
    What Johnathon Shafi has abandoned is a movement, a Campaign, which refused to accept him as self-appointed “Leader” merely because he played a significant role in the beginnings of RIC. Shafi and co have abandoned what they can’t control. The attempt to “close down” RIC was intended as a prelude to some shiny new “initiative” under “proper” Leadership.
    Ignore their shite about connecting with the working class. I’m a trade unionist. I have been actively involved in strikes. One particular strike had as one of its demands “Re-instate victimised Site Steward Dave Coull”. (We actually won that strike aim, after five weeks on strike!) And as an active member of Tayside UNITE the Union Community I’ve been involved in working class community action in recent years. .
    “It is not too late for discussion between those who were in the majority and minority at the January 31st”

    I was supposed to be one of the delegates from Radical Independence Angus & Mearns to that meeting on the 31st. However, as it turned out, I was far too ill to take part. I had received a letter from my local Health Centre telling me to attend for Vaccination against COVID on Thursday 3rd February. But, as it turned out, the Virus beat the Vaccination to the punch. I already had COVID. Well, as it turned out, I didn’t die. And I wasn’t hospitalised. I seem to have got off relatively lightly compared to tens of thousands of other elderly folk with underlying health conditions. But there was no way I could possibly have taken part in that ZOOM meeting.

    So far as Jonathon Shafi is concerned, any trust that was ever there is gone. I would never trust the man again. So far as those who foolishly followed his lead are concerned, well, maybe. But first they would have to accept that what they had been led into was acting against the working class.

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